Top 5 toothache causes (and how to ease the pain!)
Ouch! There’s no denying that a toothache can really knock you down.
If you’ve ever had a toothache (or are suffering with one right now), you’ll know just how excruciating they can be.
There’s a reason why toothaches are so painful. Your teeth, gums and face are home to lots of highly sensitive nerve endings. Inside your tooth is the pulp which has large nerves that provide sensation — including pain receptors that tell us when something is wrong.
A lot of tooth pain is caused by the inflammation of this pulp. But there are many reasons why toothaches can occur. So, let’s take a look at the most common causes of toothaches and the treatment options.
But first, a disclaimer:
This article contains general advice and should not be used to diagnose the cause or treatment of your toothache. If you or someone you love has a toothache, please book an appointment online or call us for an emergency dental check-up. The only way to confirm the correct cause and treatment of a toothache is for a dentist to assess the teeth and take x-rays.
According to Australia’s latest dental health stats, 1 in 4 children aged 5 to 10 years have untreated decay in their baby teeth and 1 in 25 people aged 15 years and over have no natural teeth left.
But what’s even scarier is that tooth decay is a very sneaky ailment. Often you won’t feel any pain in the early stages of decay and you may not even notice it forming on your teeth.
So, how does tooth decay start?
Your mouth is full of bacteria that form a film over the teeth called plaque. As you eat and drink — especially sugary or sticky foods — the bacteria produce acid that weakens the tooth enamel causing tooth decay. Over time, tooth decay can create holes in the teeth called dental cavities.
If decay is only on the outer part of your tooth (the enamel), you won’t experience any pain to tell you something is wrong. It’s only when the decay creeps into the soft inner layers of your tooth (the dentin and pulp) that it becomes painful. Unfortunately, this is also when it becomes a lot harder to treat.
How do you treat tooth decay?
Proper brushing, flossing and regular dental check-ups and cleanings will help to prevent tooth decay.
But what can you do if decay is already underway?
If caught early, you may only need a filling to treat your tooth decay or cavity. This is a quick treatment performed in the chair with minor to no discomfort.
If tooth decay is left untreated, it can result in a tooth abscess where a pocket of pus forms on the root of your tooth. This is not only extremely painful but may lead to tooth loss.
Chipped or cracked tooth
What causes chipped or cracked teeth?
Uh oh. So, you’ve chipped or cracked your tooth.
Whether you were chomping down on some hard food or accidentally hit your teeth, chipping or breaking a tooth is an extremely common issue we see at our dental clinic.
Sure, you may not feel any pain at first and you may even put off visiting the dentist for a check-up. But avoiding the dentist now can lead to bacteria infecting your tooth and — you guessed it — an inevitable toothache.
If you have a chipped or cracked tooth, you may also experience sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks or pain when eating or chewing.
Early treatment is always best so it’s important to see your dentist as soon as you chip or break any part of your tooth.
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Gum disease is a common but serious gum infection that can cause sensitive, red and swollen gums and tooth pain. There are two main stages of gum disease: gingivitis (early stage) and periodontitis (advanced stage).
Typically, gum disease is caused by poor dental hygiene which allows plaque to build up on the teeth and gums. However, gum disease can also be caused by other factors such as family history, medical conditions and some medications.
The symptoms of gum disease can range from painful or bleeding gums when you brush or floss to bad breath to wobbly teeth. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, book in to see your dentist immediately.
How do you treat gum disease?
Your dentist will be able to confirm if your sore gums and tooth pain stems from gum disease and will advise on the best treatment. If caught in its early stages, gum disease can be treated effectively and often cured. However, if left untreated, it can lead to bone loss around your tooth and loss of teeth. In fact, gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults.
What causes tooth sensitivity?
Do you flinch at the thought of biting into an ice cream or sipping a hot tea?
If you experience sharp tooth pain whenever you consume hot or cold foods and drinks, you likely have temperature sensitivity.
However, there are a number of other reasons for tooth sensitivity, from teeth grinding to overly vigorous tooth brushing to worn down tooth enamel. Tooth sensitivity may even be a sign of a cavity or a cracked or chipped tooth so it’s important to visit your dentist to determine the exact cause.
How do you treat tooth sensitivity?
Your dentist will be able to confirm the reason behind your tooth sensitivity and create a treatment plan to suit.
Impacted wisdom teeth
What causes impacted wisdom teeth?
Your wisdom teeth will usually pop up around the age of 17 to 24 years. While some people’s wisdom teeth will happily slot right into position, most people experience a lot of tooth pain and discomfort during this time.
For many people, there may not be enough space in their jaw to allow the wisdom teeth to come through the gum. This causes the teeth to become impacted and very painful.
How do you treat impacted wisdom teeth?
Thanks to the wonders of x-rays, your dentist will usually be able to see if your wisdom teeth are likely to be impacted well before they try to break through the surface of your gums.
However, if it’s been a little while since you last visited the dentist and you’re experiencing pain from your wisdom teeth, book in a check-up ASAP. Your dentist will be able to take x-rays of your jaw and assess the right treatment for your teeth. If your wisdom teeth are impacted, infected and painful, removal will likely be recommended.
How can I get rid of a toothache at home?
If you have a toothache, the best plan of action is always to book in for a check-up with your dentist.
But unfortunately, toothaches always seem to rear their ugly heads at the worst times — like when you’re trying to sleep at night or when your dentist is closed.
So, how do you stop a toothache while you’re waiting for your appointment?
Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help your toothache and ease the pain. Here are some at-home toothache treatments you can try.
Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication
Consider taking an oral OTC pain reliever, such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen, to help dull your toothache pain. Always read the label and take the recommended dosage. Do not place any painkiller directly against your gums as it may burn your gum tissue.
If you have an acute toothache, your dentist may be able to prescribe stronger pain medication after they have assessed your case.
Rinse your mouth with salt water
There’s a lot to be said for humble salt water. Rinsing your mouth with warm, salty water is an effective first-line treatment for a toothache. Salt is a natural disinfectant and can help to reduce inflammation. Rinsing may also help to dislodge any food particles stuck between your teeth.
To create a salt water rinse, mix ½ teaspoon of salt into a cup (approx. 250ml) of warm water and use it as a mouthwash.
Use a cold compress
If your toothache has been caused by trauma to the mouth or teeth, apply a cold compress to the outside of your cheek on the affected side. This will cause the blood vessels in the area to constrict, helping to reduce pain. It can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation.
Simply wrap a bag of ice (or frozen peas) in a towel and apply to the affected area for 20 minutes. Repeat every few hours.
Elevate your head
There’s nothing worse than trying to get to sleep with a throbbing toothache. You may notice your tooth pain getting worse when you lay down due to the blood pooling in your head. If this happens, try to elevate your head with an extra pillow or two to ease the pain.
Rinsing your mouth with cooled peppermint tea or sucking on peppermint tea bags may temporarily help to relieve your toothache. Peppermint not only has antibacterial compounds, but it also contains the active ingredient menthol which can have a mild numbing effect.
Be sure to allow your peppermint tea bag to cool before applying it to your painful tooth — it should be just warm. Alternatively, you can put your wet peppermint tea bag in the freezer for a few minutes to chill then apply it to your tooth for a cooling sensation.
This is not for everyone but hear us out! Chewing on a clove of raw garlic and allowing it to sit near the affected tooth may help to relieve your toothache. It sounds strange, right? But the main compound in garlic, Allicin, has a strong antibacterial effect and can help to kill the bacteria in your mouth that may be causing tooth pain.
Eugenol, one of the main compounds in cloves, works as an analgesic, meaning it numbs the area and can help to reduce tooth pain. In fact, a 2015 clinical trial found that people who applied eugenol to their gums and tooth socket after having a tooth extracted experienced less pain and inflammation during healing.
To use clove for your toothache, soak ground cloves in water to make a paste and apply it directly to the tooth. You could also try gently chewing or sucking on a single clove and allowing it to sit near your painful tooth.
Please note, this is not a suitable toothache remedy for children because they may swallow the cloves which can be spiky and cause pain when swallowed.
Know when your toothache is an emergency
Toothaches or tooth infections can lead to serious health issues. If you have a toothache and are also experiencing a fever or trouble breathing or swallowing, seek medical attention immediately.
Are your teeth causing you grief?
If you’ve got a toothache, we’re here to help!
The best way to stop your toothache in its tracks is to come in and see our friendly dentists for a check-up. They’ll be able to pinpoint the exact cause of your tooth pain and offer the right toothache treatment to get you smiling again.